Tuesday, September 30, 2008

CDOs + CDSs + IOUs = DOAs

Being a longtime technical editor, I've seen my share of acronyms (in many cases, actually initialisms). One of my favorites is FRACAS, which I encountered on a Department of Defense proposal many years ago. I believe it stood for "failure reporting analysis corrective action system." Or something like that. You have to figure someone threw that one in there just for fun, to make sure the bureaucrats were still reading. (My spilling the beans on this means some dire breach of international security, probably. Right.)

Well, Gretchen Morgenson of The Times (New York, not London) has laid out as well as anyone the whole mess behind the financial crisis. She refers to "collaterized debt obligations," or CDOs.

And "credit default swaps," or CDSs. (The big villain you hear about a lot. Will someone please just show me one? Just one? And tell me how much it is worth? Or was worth? Or was purported to be worth?)

Of course, at the heart of darkness in all of this was another abbreviated entity, American International Group, or AIG. (Among many other throbbing entities barely breathing.)

(You can see that I opt for the leaner style without the periods and apostrophes that some employ for my initialisms.)

It all adds up to IOUs that were dead on arrival, DOA.

The whole series of maneuvers almost made the whole financial system go IUD, or "I, Um, Die."

Incindentally, I'm the only one I know of to make this analogy: it's just like the steroids scandal in baseball. Everyone (fans, players, owners, media) looked the other way when it was fun, when they got something out of it (e.g. Sammy Sosa vs. Mark McGwire in the homer race). Until it all "cratered," to use a John McCain verb that David Letterman has wonderfully lampooned.

Collateralized debt obligation? Here's where semantic seekers like myself could've saved the economy. A word like "collateralized" smells rotten. Anytime you see a noun turned into a loathsome verb or participle (verbal adjective) with that many syllables in it, you know you're in for a swindle.

Credit default swap? Whew. Sounds like a come-on line from a guy with a Hawaiian shirt and shades promising to commit a sexual infidelity the first chance he gets with his married neighbor sitting by the pool in her bikini.

"Hey, baby, you want to credit default swap? Check with your husband. See if he's into that."

It was all so much fun while the party lasted.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Poetic Performance Anxiety

For today, my Zen Calendar offers this quote, by the poet W.H. Auden:

To ask the hard question is simple.

You know, W.H. (can I call you Wystan Hugh?), that's indecorous at best and embarrassing at worst, and not just because of the age factor.

Or maybe it's easy to ask the hard question, but significantly more difficult to answer the hard question.

Yes, yes, private conversations sometimes skirt the issue of the hard question, but it comes down to blunt reality in the long run.

And that naked fact is incontrovertible: it either is or it isn't [existentially, that is].

(For once, The Laughorist is not declaiming about punctuation, but if we had to characterize the topic grammatically, it would fall under the word defined as "a short sudden emotional utterance" -- or attempts at such.)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Wall Street Wipeout Wordie

Now, what other blogger breezily cooks up a broth that combines these ingredients: Wall Street, "Wipeout," and Wordie vocabulary entertainment?

As for Wall Street, the recent debacle speaks for itself. Well, it doesn't speak for itself, not anymore. For good or ill, capitalism as we know it ended on September 16-17, when the U.S. government agreed to nationalize American International Group, or A.I.G., by lending (lending?) it $85 billion, with a B. So, the Fed speaks for Wall Street, as well as America's new unelected president, Treasury Secretary President Henry M. Paulson Jr.

(Hang on, I'll tie these all together tighter than a corset giving Joan Holloway a scrumptious "figure 8" figure on AMC's series "Mad Men," which will win some Emmys tonight.)

As for smiling contagiously through the toughest of times, there's Jessica Bertoni. Oh yes, she smiled in the mud and the muck, the dirty water sullied by defeat and frustration. She even smiled when ruthlessly sucker punched on a "Wipeout" episode that aired 7/29/08. Smiled! Genuinely! Bless her.

As for the word of the week, Paulson supplied it when he said: "And we talked about a comprehensive approach to deal with the illiquid assets on financial institutions' balance sheets."


He should have said ill liquid.


As in ill liquid assets (or illiquid, for the formerly uppercrust, which reminds me of the Bob Dylan line "when you ain't got nothin' you got nothin' to lose.")

Illiquid, as in that muck you see on "Wipeout."


I mean, "Wordie!"

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Locavores et Alia Omnia

I just learned the word locavores, the word for people (excuse me, culinary adventurers) committed to eating locally, say, within a 100-mile radius.

It was the 2007 Word of the Year of the Oxford Amercan Dictionary.

Little did I know I'm so yesterday.

Locavore. It has a certain ring to it, don't you thnk? It sounds like a tourist destination on Spain's Costa del Sol.

All of this reminds me it's time for The Laughorist to coin some words, just for fun.

Jump in. Try your hand. There's plenty of room in this pool.

finavores -- sharks on Wall Street eating up all your retirement so-called money.

amoravore -- one who is famished for love.

toreavore -- one who feeds on bullshit (cf. bullivore).

pairavore -- one who eats two of everything.

hurtivore -- one who feeds on others' pain.

These stink.

I need your help.

Why am i sticking to the -avore suffix?

There's a whole universe of Wordie wordilicious wonders a-waitin' to be harvested out there.

Because I Said So!

We hear a lot about the words please and thank you. We know how cogent and efficacious these words can be.

And we know that words matter.

But, as described in a chapter titled "Which single word will strengthen your persuasion techniques?" guess what that word is?


Yes, because.

Let me explain before you think the parental saw "because I said so" is the way to go.

In Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive by Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, and Robert B. Cialdini (his name gets bigger letters), the authors cite multiple experiments and studies on what gets people to go along with things.

It was fun to read. I breezed through the whole book, footnotes and all. Figured it might help me in work and in life.I can use help. Can't you?

Anyway, Chapter 35 out of the 50 scientifically-proven-ways chapters points out that a request accompanied by the word because, followed by an actual reason, brings more results (within limits) than not doing that.

This is not shocking.

In my own experience, I know that a resume or a proposal backed up by real data is powerful stuff.

How come no one told me this while dating in my teenage years?

I'l leave that one alone because it would cause me layers of embarrassment.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dish Network Disabled

Lying in bed last night around 11 p.m., just after reading Larry Woiwode's A Step From Death memoir, I was jolted out of my incipient, albeit typically restless, slumber.

The dishes!

The dishes were lying in the sink and on the counter, not a lot of them, but, still, the remains of the day, more accurately the evening, the detritus of plates and bowls and silverware; a small frying pan; some glassware and cups.

What will this do to my vow of never waking up again to dishes from the night before?

I decided to let it be, not to arouse from the bed and disturb the universe.

I decided the point was to observe, to see, to learn; that the point wasn't the dishes themselves. The point was me (or the lack of me).

Remember what Robert Pirsig said in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? Something like, "The motorcycle you are working on is yourself."

I did them today.

No guilt.

Pleasure, in fact.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Dishing It

Growing up, the dishes were always -- and I mean always -- done immediately after the meal. All the years growing up, maybe once (twice?) did my father allow, and even proclaim, we'll leave them. "Leaving them" meant for a few hours, likely not overnight. (Yes, Mom cooked; Dad did the dishes. The boys dried. Dried? Now they dry by themselves.)

That has not been the case typically in my own life.

Typically it's a buildup of a few days, mirroring the circadian rhythms of at least my own bingeful ways. I can't speak to anyone else's patterns.

This past Sunday I thought of this dishes pattern in my formative years.

I wondered, what has changed in me? Why the difference?

I made a silent vow to myself and no other.

Never leave the dishes overnight.

Not a vow exactly, but more a watchful observance, an attentive promise to myself, fully realizing the sad, sour history of futility and failure of self-directed moral crusades in my life.

As the Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh has remarked (I'll paraphrase), The only thing unpleasant about doing the dishes is not doing them.

Doing the dishes itself is joyful.

So far so good.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Tranquilization by the Trivial

As noted in an earlier post, the phrase "tranquilization by the trivial," attributed to Soren Kierkegaard, for whom I leap, surely describes American culture.

Case in point:

Remarks by two presidential and one vice presidential candidates about lipstick (lipstick!) are scrutinized for significance. (Here's a new phrase, attributed to Pawlie Kokonuts, Esq.: the
scrutinization for significance (better yet, scrutiny for significance).

To a significant degree, I blame the media for playing into the hands of the public hunger for trivia. And yet: this is how we are: much more "fun" to have a controversy over lipstick than something as unsexy as mortgage foreclosures.

If Nero fiddled while Rome burned, we applied lipstick to our pouted lips while the empire collapsed.

God [feel free to insert other name of Higher Power here or leave a blank space for those who believe the Sacred is ineffable and inexpressible], help us.

The insertion of the immediately preceding comma makes it a prayer (doesn't it, Mark Murphy?) as opposed to an imperative statement without the comma.

(Afterthought: Mark, "candidate" or "candidates" in paragraph 3? Probably best to use the editor's favorite tool: recast the sentence.)

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Fodder for the Serial Comma Wars

In today's Washington Post, Jonathan Yardley pens a lovely salute to The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White.

Yardley's essay has this excerpt:

This is the same William Strunk, Jr., who two pages earlier writes, "In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last," as in "red, white, and blue," this second comma being "often referred to as the 'serial' comma," except in newspaper offices, where it is often referred to as the "space-eating" comma.

Score one for the serial comma!

The funny thing about Strunk & White is this: over the years as an editor, I have heard countless colleagues (often engineers and scientists) make adoring comments about it -- and rarely, if ever, apply its principles. It got to be that if someone quoted Strunk & White to me, I cringed, knowing their writing would be obtuse and bloviated.

I doubt they ever read it.

Same with many lawyers.

Such is life.

Ahead of Death

One tall sunflower, its trunklike stem bent mercilessly, bows almost to the ground on our side of the fence, overcome by its own largeness, broken by its own self, a head so full and ripened it carries the weight of next year's seeds (or this year's creature food) almost to the ground -- and yet achingly beautiful even as its yellow leaves pale and scatter.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Three Very Simple Questions

Q. Why is virtually no one (candidates, newspapers, newscasters, bloggers, magazines) talking anymore about the real estate ("subprime" mortgage = multiple-party greed) crisis and its ripple effect on the whole economy?

Q. As with the savings and loan debacle twenty years ago, is it because the topic is considered too complicated, not sexy enough?

Q. Why aren't the Democrats seizing upon this as an utterly classic and delicious example of the need for government regulatory oversight, which in the heyday of so-called conservative so-called deregulation has all but vanished without a whisper?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Ghosts in the Machines

Last night, while struggling to fall asleep, with a fan and an air conditioner thrumming, I thought I heard voices outside, or maybe instrumental music, or singing. Just barely.

Then, upon leaving the room, going to a non-AC portion of the house, I couldn't hear the voices, music, or singing.

Help me out here.

Was it a psychotic fugue (to use musical nomenclature)?

My imagination?


Or...was it one of those deals where the AC window unit somehow acts like a radio receiver, the way they used to say someone's braces or dental fillings could work like a radio?

People have really claimed that, and I guess it's true.

Just thought I'd ask.

What They Taught Me in Kindergarten -- and Beyond

First day of school here.

School? Some memories of my own, of school long ago and far away, in Stamford, Connecticut, and beyond:

1. The fear of being bullied by Dennis F. and his moo-ha-ha-ha sadistic laugh.

2. Enjoying recess as the high point of the day.

3. Never doing homework upon first getting home. Instead, changing into play clothes and playing outside. Doing the homework at night and then, if possible, being free to watch "The Dick Van Dyke Show" or "Andy Griffith."

4. Pining for Louise L., whom I spied at the wind-up pencil sharpener in 4th grade.

5. Anxiety doing long division.

6. Worse anxiety doing math word problems, and the tension in the kitchen as my parents tried to help.

7. Mrs. Rivers's shouting into our faces "know it now" or "bear that in mind" as she drilled us on grammar in 7th grade. (The term serial comma never came up, and I don't remember her position on the serial comma, but she was probably the best teacher I ever had, at least in sheer efficacy, but not the most cherished [that would be Father Giuliani].)

8. Diagraming sentences on the blackboard in Mrs. Rivers's class.

9. Saying the "Hail Mary" in French in Father Methe's class in high school.

10. The panic of trying to get to class after gym, after fiddling with the combination lock on the gym basket, hair dripping wet, in 3 minutes. (Try diagraming that sentence!)

11. Learning Latin in 9th grade, taught by Mrs. Nell Herndon (who had a very cool new Thunderbird) in a Texas drawl.

12. Boys' and girls' separate entrances at Burdick Junior High School (now replaced with condos, I think).

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Editorial Comment

My previous post was satirical.

Chalk it up to my philopolemic nature.

Philopolemic: loving debate or contention.

The Speech Sarah Palin Will Not Give

My fellow Caucasian rural jingoistic Americans, I accept your nomination as self-proclaimed proletarian princess to become your vice president (give or take a vice -- your pick).

The puck stops here. It is time to shatter that glass ceiling like a moose hit by buckshot. It is time to crush the namby-pamby Eastern effete elitist grandiloquence. It is time to show that women can not only be the president of the local LaLeche chapter but also commander-in-chief, nursing the dreams of patriots just born as well as those old enough to know better.

My fellow Americans, we can be strong as Alaska wolves and as deliberate as a glacier.

We are pro-life! (Except when it comes to the death penalty, gun control, daycare, universal healthcare, stopping genocide in Darfur, and urban crime.)

Most of all, think of the vision we can celebrate for this great land: a return to 1955! Senator McCain -- praise the Lord! -- has brought us a miracle! Yes, 1955 is back. What better place than Alaska to embody the great native land before it was besmirched by hordes of immigrants with names we can't even pronounce, with gays, and Negroes, and . . .

I am one of you, friends. Actually, I am what the Democrats pretend to be: blue-collar. As for you Republican country club ladies, I am what you wish you could be -- if your rich hubby would let you.

So, in closing, let's hear it for 1955 and the good ol' red, WHITE [applause], and blue.

Thank you. And may the evangelical God bless America.


Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Just e-stumbled on this cool site for wordies (why not? we have foodies) like me:


Check it out.

I like it -- a lot.


Nope. Not what you were thinking.

homodox: having the same opinion.

From Mr. Grambs:

"her complaisant, homodox friends"

Also, homodoxian.

Blog Liberalization

McCain's people are complaining that "liberal" or "leftist" bloggers are smearing Sarah Palin.

Multipart question:

What, really, is a liberal blogger? Or a leftist blogger? Or a conservative or rightist blogger?

When I say "I Leap for Kierkegaard" is it liberal or conservative?

What about poetry?

What if I am liberal on some days and conservative on others?

What if I'm liberal on some issue but conservative on others?

What do I do about my anarchic tendencies?

Under what category does walking the dog fall under?

Whose politics is embraced by haiku?

Monday, September 01, 2008


Browsing through The Endangered English Dictionary compiled by my friend David Grambs, I realize that . . .

. . . my muscles and joints efflagitate* that someone perfricate** them for a hesychastic*** effect.

* to desire or demand eagerly

** to rub thoroughly

*** soothing or calming (especially regarding music, like a lullaby)


Love 'em or . . .



eschew them.

Kokonuts, Kayaker

My daughter, 11, and I, 59, went kayaking on Onondaga Lake today, a warmish day with bright sun and blazing pastel cerulean (ain't that oxymoronic?) sky.

You can rent a two-seater for $8 an hour. What a bargain!

That's not counting the post-kayaking massage therapy and acupuncture and orthopedist and chiropractor fees, HAHAHAHAHAHAAHA!

Based on one limited experience about six or seven years ago, or seven or eight, who can keep track anymore, I thought it'd be easy.

The paddling wasn't too bad.

It was my lower back and my haunches.

Killed me.

I ain't fat but I am obviously stiff and inflexible (metaphor junkies, have at it).

I backrest would've helped enormously (many kayaks have such supporters).

My daughter tried to be a coxswain of sorts, cheering us on, chiding my poor rhythm and lack of staying power.

It was faintly depressing.

I'm this pathetic? I've come to this?

What comes next? I become a Sarah Palin supporter?

How low do I go?

Still, and truly, I reflected upon surviving the experience that, alas, we were alive and well and in the game and giving it a go and having at it.

Sounds small and cynical.

But, no, really, I am grateful.

We did it.

Age quod agis.

No one can erase it.

Deo gratias.